I’ve been a member of Combo, the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization, for at least 8 years. It all started when I began racing. At that point, if you signed up for a membership to your local trail group then you got $5 off each OMBC race. I was planning on doing the full series, so that meant I was paying about $25 or so, to save 40 to 50 bucks. Plus, I got 5 to 10 percent off my bike purchases at Bikesource in Westerville. Even though I was new to mountain biking and didn’t really know what Combo was, it seemed like a no-brainer.
I’m pretty sure that first year I had zero interactions with the group. In fact, instead of helping them, I was offsetting all their hard work by riding wet, muddy trails as often as I could. I thought the fact that I was willing to ride in all conditions made me a total badass. A muddy bike was a mark of pride. I wasn’t trashing the trails to be evil or malicious, I was just new to the sport and ignorant about the rules and etiquette.
It’s all a little blurry about how I wised up about Combo and their trails, but I’m sure there were several factors. For one, I stumbled onto the OhioSingleTrack forum when I was trying to learn more about mountain biking and trails in Ohio. Also, OMBC race director Ryan O’Dell promoted the trail groups at every race. Plus, occasionally I would see the guys out working on the trail. And then there was that one trail-shaming I got when former Combo president, Gregg Soster, saw my muddy bike after a ride. I hung my head in shame and put my tail between my legs. I was a bad, bad boy.
I wanted to learn how to be a better citizen in the mountain biking community. I started riding on the road when the trails were muddy. I made a point to learn about trail etiquette. I stopped pooping in the woods when the urge hit me (Okay, I didn’t really stop doing that. I just stopped doing it in the center of the trail).
I went to a handful of trail days and enjoyed learning about proper trail construction and meeting the guys who were donating their sweat equity. Gregg Soster, Bryan “Pacman” Pack, Ed Braunbeck, Paul Remonko and Brian “BA” Adams were some of my early trail building idols. I was amazed at how many hours they were willing to spend building and maintaining the trails at Alum Creek – and later Chestnut Ridge.
When I ride around these trails now there are many bridges, obstacles and sections of trail that I had a small hand in helping to install. Each loop evokes fond memories of weekend mornings in the woods that gave me an appreciation for the dirt that I was rolling over.
Of course my main interest in mountain biking is XC racing, so I would help a few times in the late fall, winter and spring, but then my participation would drop to almost nothing in the summer when my race schedule got packed. Ironically though, it was racing that also brought me closer to Combo.
About 5 years ago, I decided that I wanted to join a race team. I posted my desire on the Combo website and a few hours later I was contacted by Mitch Gay, who was managing the Combo Race Team. I was thrilled. I considered Combo’s team to be the most fun and active mountain bike race team in Ohio at the time. I couldn’t believe that I was going to get the opportunity to hang with these guys. One requirement for being on the team was volunteering for 10 hours at Combo trail days.
Now my racing and my trail building were completely intertwined. I dabbled with the idea of getting more involved with Combo at the time. I was an administrator on their Facebook page and I helped out with some of their social media stuff. However, my kids were very young at this point and fatherhood made it hard to fully commit. With the limited time I had, I continued to focus on racing and let the Combo stuff fall to the side when my schedule got busy.
In the following years, I continued to volunteer at trail days in the off-season, even after the Combo Race Team disbanded and I was no longer obligated to do so. I also donated money above and beyond my annual membership fee to show them support and help them with their mission.
In October 2013, I started publishing Quickdirt.com to tell the story about how I had lost weight, gotten healthier (and faster) and used mountain bike racing to give me goals to maintain my new lifestyle (less craft beer, more pedaling). It gave me a voice in the Ohio mountain bike scene, and I made a point to write several articles about volunteering for Combo each year. Even if I couldn’t be a Combo superhero like Braunbeck, Pacman or BA, then I could at least use my platform to help inspire others to step up and do their part.
And that’s the point.
We can’t all be singletrack super heroes every day. We can’t as individuals build entire trail systems from scratch. We have families, jobs, lawns to cut, bills to pay, etc… But we can look at our strengths and come up with many other ways to help this great group achieve its mission. Can you organize an event like Comboween? Take photos for social media? Ride laps for bike patrol? Network with land managers? Or, do you prefer to get your hands dirty by benchcutting trails, building bridges and posting trail conditions. Can you donate money, lumber or construction equipment? There are so many ways to help out.
So this year I am trying to step my game up. I am a stay-at-home dad and my kids, ages 5 and 8, have both started school. I have a little less stress and a little more time in my life. I volunteered to be part of Combo’s 15-member board. I’m not entirely sure what my role will be and where I will be the most useful. But I figure the first step is to go to a few meetings, assess their needs, and figure that out. I’m looking forward to working with some of my current Combo idols like Trent List, JJ Johnson and Dan Fausey to help take the local trails to the next level.
My challenge to you as a mountain biker is to think about your local trail group. How can you allocate some of your scarce time and resources to help out?”
As Combo likes to say, “Without trails, where will you ride?”